Careers and Change

Conventional career wisdom states that you (yes, you!) will change your career over seven times in your life.  I just read an article that increased that number to nine.  Nine?  That was hard to believe…until I started flashing back to all the career-track jobs I’ve  had.

I’ve been thinking about this because, well, I’ve found myself moving into a new career (if you can call it that).  Tricky word “career.”  We take it to mean the professional realm where we’ve cast our lot, and I suppose that’s correct. However, often times we take jobs because it’s the only offer out there, and soon enough it becomes a career.  By that I mean we start to identify with the job as more than a job.  Maybe because of your job you have to keep current with trends, so you join LinkedIn groups, start following people on Twitter, get newsletter emails, and read websites that relate to your job.  Sure, the information may not be the most exciting, but it relates to what you do for a living, and if you want to be valuable, it’s best if you “keep up” with what’s going on in the industry you work in.  Soon, it’s no longer a “job.”  Rather you start to care about this stuff, become more emotionally and intellectually connected, and then…the job is now a career.

Losing a career-track position is more than just losing a paycheck.
Since one’s career is linked to one’s identity, it’s difficult to immediately disconnect from those things that anchored your career. If you’ve decided that you want to stay in that field, then you try to find another job that’s similar (and hopefully for more pay).

What if you’ve decided to try something else?  What is it going to take to make that 180 degree turn, get skills, get connected, and get on your way to a new career?  Well, there’s no “one size fits all” answer to that.  If there were an easy answer, then a whole chunk of the career counseling sector wouldn’t exist.

I bring all this up because I’ve gone through a change of sorts.  Thinking back to all the jobs I’ve had over the course of my life, and the work I’m doing, there’s a “You’ve come full circle” element to it.  To wit, here are the jobs and careers I’ve done since I was old enough to legally work:

  1. Gymnastics instructor (I was 15 when I taught beginning gymnastics to kids).
  2. Dishwasher (At 16, I worked at a local restaurant. The gig only lasted three days).
  3. Radio board-op (My first job out of high school).
  4. Radio DJ (Worked part-time in radio while attending college).
  5. Video editor (Dropped out of college to work for a defense contractor doing video editing, camera work, sound mixing, and still photography).
  6. News assistant/board-op (With a Bachelor’s degree in political science from SF State in hand, I found myself working back in radio part-time and trying to find full-time work during a recession).
  7. Teaching assistant (Decided radio/media was not where it’s at. So off to grad school to become a teacher. Grad school paid their teaching assistants.  I think it was about $1000 over the poverty line).
  8. College professor (Part time at a number of colleges and universities for about four years making less money than I did as a teaching assistant. And they say an advanced degree leads to better pay. Ha!).
  9. Radio DJ/News Director/Traffic Anchor/Public Affairs Director (Back in radio, but at least I was making a livable salary).
  10. Marketing and promotions director in (yes) radio.
  11. TV director and editor & political talk show host.

Now if you boil this list down, there are a couple of wildcards that make you go “Huh?” The most glaring is the college professor track.  But at that time in my life I decided I wanted to teach and live a life of the mind.  Did I enjoy it?  Sure. When I was teaching, it was by and large a good experience.  But I couldn’t live in poverty anymore so I had to find something that paid real money that one could live off of.  Working in the media is not a sure path to riches, but the work can be fun. However, the radio industry is unstable and opportunities to have a career in that realm get smaller and smaller each year (insert you favorite “Death of Radio” story here).

Now here’s the kicker:  when I was working in job #9, I hired the services of a life coach who helped me sharpen my career desires. I told her that I was a film major who really wanted to direct features when I was starting out in college, but later changed tracks and opted for a career in academia. Indeed, during my years in film school, I used to have a button that pinned to my jacket that said “But what I really want to do is direct.” I might have shared that little anecdote with my life coach during our conversations because later she helped me identify two areas where my skills, talent and passion stood out the most: political talk show host and a creative field that involved my background in audio and video production.

Am I where I’m supposed to be in terms of my career? Right now it sure feels like it.

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